by Dennis Dalman
Unearthing St. Stephen’s history in the form of photographs was a daunting task for a mother-and-daughter team, but they rolled up their sleeves, took a deep breath and managed to do it.
Last year, Verdell Rudolph and daughter Anita Smoley agreed to gather photos from anywhere and everywhere to help celebrate St. Stephen’s Centennial. The two women sent out feelers, but there were few responses. They were very disappointed, at first. Rolling up their sleeves a little further, they became a bit more aggressive and practically pommeled people in St. Stephen to cough up old photographs. Their insistence, persistence and whip-cracking paid off. In the coming months, since last January, they managed to round up nearly 400 vintage photos – some as early as 1871 when the first church was built in what was then just a territory, not a town.
Thanks to Verdell and Anita, a 97-page book containing almost 300 photos has been published to commemorate St. Stephen’s 100th birthday. A two-day bash will take place July 18-20. During that time, the St. Stephen Centennial Photo Book will be for sale.
“It was a big challenge,” Verdell said, but she admitted it was a challenge she and her daughter both enjoyed, despite the hassles, because both enjoy perusing old photos and the history of the city they love.
“What was time-consuming was putting the photos in order, once we got them, and then numbering each one and then putting them into categories,” Verdell noted.
Anita and Verdell are both firm believers in the old adage a picture is worth a thousand words – sometimes more. That is why, Verdell said, their book is heavy on photos and lighter on text. It’s a visual record, in black-and-white and color, of more than 100 years of St. Stephen history: its rural beginnings; its businesses then and now; the people who were born, lived, worked and died there; the importance of the church; its schools; the city’s fire department; its long tradition of homegrown baseball teams; its parades; its activities; its governance; its achievements.
One of the most difficult aspects of putting the picture book together is all too many of the photos were not dated or labeled. That fact made for a lot of detective work and best-estimate guessing on the part of Anita and Verdell. However, since both have lived in St. Stephen for half a century, they – especially Verdell – were adept at honing in on the approximate date of each photo and recognizing people in each shot or finding someone who did know them. There are, alas, still some “blanks” here and there, and yet all of the photos bespeak volumes of the colorful and rich history of St. Stephen and its people.
Verdell, who was raised in St. Cloud, met and married Larry Rudolph of St. Wendel 50 years ago. In fact, just this past week they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They have four children: Anita Smoley of St. Stephen; Renee Narlock (Wisconsin); Scott, who lives near Holdingford; and Aaron, who lives in Opole. They have 12 grandchildren and one great-grandson.
photo by Dennis Dalman
Anita Smoley (left) and her mother, Verdell Rudolph, peruse the final proofs of their St. Stephen photo history book just days before its printing by Sentinel Press, St. Cloud. The two women spent months collecting and collating hundreds of photos, old and new, that tell the story in images of the city’s 100-year-old history.
Willie Peternell leans against a truck in this photo taken sometime, probably, in the 1950s. Peternell Trucking was one of the many businesses that thrived during St. Stephen’s long history. Willie is one of the nephews of Ed Peternell, who, now at 102 years old, is older than the history of his home place, St. Stephen, founded as an incorporated city in 1914.
This goofy, double-decker jalopy – obviously rigged for fun – was one of the units in a St. Stephen parade, probably sometime in the 1950s. It is one of hundreds of photos submitted for potential inclusion in the St. Stephen Centennial photo book to be sold during the city’s big birthday party July 18-20.